© 2009 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

03/11/09 1:32 PM ET

Despite spring mark, pitchers improving

Pitching coach Robinson likes what he sees from potential starters

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- There is no masking the win/loss record of the Astros nearly two weeks into the Grapefruit League season, and even though the games don't count for much from a big-picture standpoint, losing almost every day has not been a lot of fun for the uniformed personnel.

That said, pitching coach Dewey Robinson is keeping his wits about him, despite the Astros' 1-10-1 record heading into their contest with the Reds in Sarasota on Wednesday. Robinson has been around long enough to understand that spring games aren't as much about final results as they are about individual performances, and he's encouraged by the inning-by-inning results from several pitchers, including a couple competing for starting jobs.

In fact, Robinson likes the quality of this group more than the pitchers the Astros had in camp during Spring Training last year.

"You start looking at our core guys, and I'm optimistic," Robinson said. "We're throwing six, seven, eight guys a game, and one or two have bad outings, and it weighs on you. But each night, I try to evaluate each pitcher individually. I've been excited about four or five guys who are consistently throwing well."

Specifically, Robinson sees right-handers Jose Capellan and Russ Ortiz, currently auditioning for starting jobs, pulling away from the pack. Ortiz pitched well in his first two outings, allowing one run over a combined five innings, before stumbling a bit in his last one, yielding three runs over 2 2/3 frames.

Capellan has turned in the best numbers of any starter. He's made three appearances, totaling eight innings, and has yet to allow a run.

"He a big guy with a big-time arm," said Robinson, who watched Capellan "dominate" at the Class A and Double-A levels while with the Braves. "I've been very pleased with the way he attacks the hitter and commands his stuff."

Robinson expects Capellan to start a game in the near future. Ortiz, who has been entering games behind Mike Hampton, will make his first start of the spring season on Saturday, against the Phillies.

Saturday will be a big day for another Houston pitcher as well. Chris Sampson threw batting practice -- with farmhand Koby Clemens serving as his catcher -- Wednesday morning in a final tuneup before taking the mound in a live game for the first time this spring.

Sampson pitched to Jason Michaels, Reggie Abercrombie and Edwin Maysonet.

"Everything was working, I threw everything for strikes," Sampson said. "There still is definitely room for improvement but that's what Spring Training is all about. It was very encouraging, and I'm anxious to get in the game Saturday."

Brandon Backe, dressed in shorts and his Astros jersey, hung out behind the cage during Sampson's BP session and reported that he is improving, but still has no timetable for a return.

"I'm getting better," he said. "I felt a lot better from the day before to yesterday, but not as much of an improvement from yesterday to today. But it feels good. I feel like I'm getting better."

Since straining an intercostal muscle during his outing in Bradenton on Sunday, Backe is doing whatever he can to stay active during the time he is sidelined.

"I'm doing whatever I can to not aggravate it, while keeping myself in shape," he said. "The more I do now, the less I have to do later."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.